Carranza, J., de la Peña, E., Mateos, C., Pérez-González, J., Alarcos, S., Torres-Porras, J., Valencia, J., Sánchez-Prieto, C., Castillo, L. (2020) The dark ventral patch: A bimodal flexible trait related to male competition in red deer. PLoS ONE 15(11): e0241374. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0241374
Sexual signals play a central role in male-male competition in polygynous species. In red deer (Cervus elaphus), male’s ventral area become dark during the rutting season due to urine spraying behaviour and retains many chemical compounds potentially revealing individual features. Here we investigate the variation in size of this trait, exploring its relationship with age and male competitive features such as antlers or body size, as well as populational level of intrasexual competition for mates. We found that the size of the dark ventral patch followed a clearly bimodal distribution, i.e. males mostly expressed the full-size trait or just developed a very small one. For these two groups of males according to trait expression, the relationships of trait size with age and antler size differed. Populational level of intrasexual competition appeared to affect the relationship between antler size and the probability of a fully developed ventral patch. These results indicate that the trait encodes information on body size, antler size, age and populational level of mate competition, thus suggesting a role in signalling male’s competitive features and willingness to allocate reproductive effort within a particular season.